“The brainstorming session is my favorite part,” Jess Brown said over coffee at Order and Chaos. “It’s white boards, and post-it-notes every where, and research… but then there is a spark. A moment when an idea sticks.”
Organized chaos is a bit of a life philosophy for Jess, mom of two and Creative Director at Planit, a Baltimore-based advertising agency. Overseeing a team of 24, Jess’ job is to manage how the agency pushes creative boundaries for Planit’s clients — taking marketing ideas from spark to developed concept to strategic implementation to brand experience.
In high school, Jess thought she’d go to college and be an English major. She liked reading, writing and had an affinity for research papers, so it seemed like a logical step. While art was her passion, she equated pursuing a career in art with becoming an art teacher, something she didn’t see herself doing. Ironically, it was her high school art teacher who convinced her to go to art school. Out of the blue one day he mentioned that she would make a great Creative Director.
A field where only 11% of women hold leadership positions.
So she went to art school. And one year ago, she took the position of Creator Director.
Over the holidays, a colleague gave her a copy of “Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond.” The book is written by Jane Maas, who started as a copywriter on Madison Avenue in 1964 and worked her way up to Creative Director. Maas is credited with the iconic “I Love New York” campaign, which rescued New York City from bankruptcy.
“I knew nothing about her,” said Jess. “It’s my own industry, and I knew nothing about the women who had shaped it. If I knew so little, I knew the chances were high that my team didn’t know much about these women either.”
So she challenged them to learn about these women — about their work, their accomplishments, and their sacrifices, encouraging them getting to know them as people. Through that internal process, a passion project was born. Just in time to Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, Planit launched the #rADicalwomen social media campaign, which celebrates women in the creative industry like Mary Wells Lawrence, Caroline Jones and Phyllis Kenner Robinson.
Women make up only one-third of her team. But everyone has embraced this project whole-heartedly, which has been gratifying to Jess as a leader, even if the “guys fumbled a bit at the beginning.”
“There is a lot to discover and celebrate,” said Jess. “We’re changing the way we think about the work that women do and their contributions.”
But, as we all know, it’s not easy.
Jess credits her strong support network for helping her surf they every day waves of work and family. She tackles kid duty in the morning, making sure her 5 and 3 year old get to school and daycare before heading into the office. Her boyfriend, Ryan, handles after school and dinner for the kids. Nighttime routines happen a little later at their home, since Jess typically gets home around 7. But when she gets home, it’s all about being present. Then it’s family time, stories, and cooking dinner for two with Ryan after the kids go to bed. When work gets demanding and the two find themselves traveling, Jess’ parents pitch in.
Having a strong partner helps keep her grounded when life gets messy, as it has a habit of doing.”He really is a good mirror,” said Jess. “I wasn’t always this disciplined. We’re really good at dividing and conquering, but that didn’t just happen. It took work.”
Photos by Laura Black.